And wow, how fine it is! The garden is shaped around idyllic ponds, while dense shrubbery and otherworldly flora reflect upon the water's calm surface. Rounded wooden bridges connect Ritsurin's many islets, and overhanging pines cast a latticework of shadows over the cobbled paths snaking along the park's perimeter.
The Shoko Shoreikan Museum, an ancient tea house and several other wooden structures with sloping roofs hide among the park's carefully-shaped contours; 13 landscaped hills have been placed around the garden—each one strategically positioned to offer panoramic views of the park, and the hulking Mount Shiun to the west. Symbolic rock formations and religious iconography can also be found in isolated pockets around the garden.
Basically, have your cameras at the ready. Ritsurin is truly a photographer's dream.
The history of Ritsurin is a little murky, like the small ponds that dot its landscape after a rainstorm. Its construction is believed to have begun late in the 16th century while the surrounding area was under the control of the Sato clan of Sanuki Province (Kagawa Prefecture's former name). The garden was subsequently iterated upon by a number of different rulers throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Not until 1745 was it eventually completed under the direction of one of the Matsudaira clan leaders. At that time the garden's 60 scenic spots were officially named, and the garden has been maintained from that time until today.
Several interweaving trails run throughout Ritsurin; you can easily explore all of them in a couple of hours at a leisurely pace—which is great, because gardens like this are specifically designed to be explored at such a pace. Joining the gorgeous greenery are tumbling streams feeding into the ponds, where turtles and carp bask in the sunshine (you can feed the fish, if you're so inclined). And if you want to take a little boat trip around the central pond paddled by a man in a conical straw hat, you are encouraged to do so! It's arguably the most peaceful way to enjoy the scenery.
Ritsurin's display of flowering plants is as varied as it is arresting; quintessential Japanese plants like lotus, water lily and crape myrtle inject electric hues of pink and red into the greenery; tawny daylily and several genera of lily pad, replete with croaking frogs and buzzing dragon flies, can be seen littered throughout the garden. Naturally (excuse the pun), the flowers change from season to season, with cherry blossoms in spring and rusty fall foliage in autumn, which means there's plenty of reasons to stop by throughout the year.
What you really want to do in Ritsurin is just relax and take your time. While the daimyo may not have always been the most responsible leaders, they definitely had an eye for beauty and understood the importance of a leisurely stroll in a place you can truly relax—we could all take a page out of their books. Life in Japan can be all hustle and bustle at times, a couple hours strolling through nature, in a truly serene setting, on the quietest of Japan's major islands, could do any of us a world of good!